Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Good-Bye, My "Little-Buddy" - Part 2

Our house is kind of a house divided. Let me further explain that. Our eldest cat, Hubbard, is an orange and white Maine Coon mix and probably around fifteen now. We don’t know his exact age as we adopted him from an animal control shelter in Laramie, WY. He had been brought there as a stray, and they had no idea of his exact age (somewhere between 3-5 years it was estimated). Hubbard never did get along with Treelo, our long-haired calico, from the moment we brought her home. We adopted her from an animal hospital when she was one year old. The vet there at the time was a good friend and former college roommate of my wife. Treelo had been brought in by animal control with a large gash on her front right leg. Our vet friend fixed her up, and called us knowing we were looking for a "companion" during the day for Hubbard, as we both worked at that time. I should have known better, but we went to meet her. I fell in love from the moment I saw her. We just had no idea she was going to turn into the holy terror she did!

Hubbard has always been a lover, not a fighter. He would just not stand up to Treelo when she started in on him, and she just delighted in pushing all of his emotional buttons. So, we have always kept them separated, to keep him healthy and sane. When we moved into the rental house we’re in now, we purchased a 42” pet gate and put it at the top of the stairs. This effectively divided the house into two areas; the “upstairs” with the bedrooms and the “downstairs” living areas and the basement. Hubbard’s domain was upstairs, sleeping with us in the bed. Treelo’s domain was the rest of the house, but she would only get to sleep with me occasionally, especially when I would fall asleep on the couch. I have tried to compensate for this inequity over the years, by occasionally moving into the guest room for a night or two, and letting her sleep with me. True to her nature, she enjoys waking me up at 4am by standing on my chest. [grin]

When Ziggy came, he was literally the cat who could bridge the gap. Ziggy was so laid back, and as cool as a mountain lake. Nothing could ever rattle him. He just took everything and everyone in stride, neither showing fear or anger...even when those would have been a normal reaction. It was the very quality that drew us to him in the shelter. He was in a room with several other cats, including one who emotionally was the twin sister to our Treelo; Getting by on her looks, high-strung, with just a touch of persecution complex. Ziggy would simply walk too close to this other female cat, and she would hiss and wave a paw at him menacingly. He would just look at her and keep going, as if to say, “Yeah, whatever…I’ve heard it all before from you.” When my wife and I saw that, we looked at each other and said, if anyone could survive Treelo, it would be this cat. We never intended to become a three-cat household, but fate has a funny way of sneaking up behind you, tapping you on the back of the head and handing you a kitty.

Ziggy, after his initial quarantine, continued to show that supreme calm in our house. He and Treelo quickly worked out their relationship, which I would describe as a one-sided truce. Treelo would try to provoke him, and he would try to walk away. Even when he got to the point of retaliation, it was never excessive. He always just defended himself enough to get her to go away. That confused the crap out of her! And he went on like nothing had happened. Classic.

Ziggy and Hubbard were also able to work out a truce, of sorts. Hubbard unfortunately is blind. He developed cataracts in both eyes recently, and due to his age we did not want to risk losing him to the anesthetic that would be needed to operate. So, he could not see this new interloper clearly, but he could hear and smell him. At first, Hubbard would leave anytime Ziggy came around. Too many memories of Treelo's mistreatment of him, I guess. We worked and worked with both of them and it took quite a while, but Hubbard eventually came to tolerate his presence, as long as Ziggy stayed out of his way! Ziggy liked Hubbard, and I think really wanted to be friends with him…but Hubbard would not permit it. Many days Ziggy would come and sleep on the bed close to Hubbard. Not right next to him, but as close as he felt Hubbard would tolerate.

Ziggy was the cat who could come and go through the gate with us without issue. He became a unifying force in our little family.

I hoped when we brought Ziggy home from the clinic after his diagnosis with cancer, we would maybe see the Ziggy I remembered from our earlier times. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

I knew the first little bit would be him getting over the sedative they had given him. I knew he would be lethargic and kind of “out of it.” And that stuff was all true. He did wander around a bit to investigate after being gone…but not much. He ended up staying in our living room, lying on the hardwood floor. His breathing was better, but not what I would consider normal. When our calico, Treelo, stopped breathing while under anesthetic during a routine procedure, I took it upon myself to study more about a cat’s physiology. Treelo was resuscitated, due to the quick action of our family vet and her staff. But I learned that a normal cat’s respiration rate is about 20-30 breaths per minute, and hers is somewhat faster due to a heart abnormality and a touch of asthma. Ziggy was taking a few more breaths per minute and you could tell he was still laboring slightly. Only when he was asleep did his breathing look normal.

As he started coming out from under the sedative, his appetite returned somewhat and he began drinking a little more. He was using his litter box as well. I caught myself looking at these positive events and saying, “He’s getting better. Maybe he’s not as bad as they say.” Then I would remember…well, no, he’s not ever going to be the same again. This is just the eye of the storm. Nice and calm…but short-lived.

He enjoyed being home and in familiar surroundings. We even got to see a couple of glimpses of the old Ziggy, but only for short periods. His two favorite toys of all time were a spool of thin blue cord that he pilfered out of my wife’s sewing basket, and a laser pointer. He was thoroughly convinced that the blue cord was just evil, and it needed to be subdued at every turn. He would play with either of us for long periods, chasing the cord around, fighting with it, chewing on it, until he was satisfied it was dead. And whether he was watching us or not, he could hear you pick up the laser pointer. He would come at a dead run, chattering his teeth, ready to do battle. He would chase that red dot until your arm got so tired you’d have to give in.

But now, most of that spark was gone. He played with us a few times for a minute or two, but he got winded easily. And when he would lie down, he would only stay in one position for 15-25 minutes. Then he would have to shift and try to get comfortable again. I think that was the hardest part of having him home; seeing that he just wasn’t the big, strong boy I brought home from the shelter anymore. That still tears me up inside.

Ziggy was never much for human food. He would come and sniff what you had, but rarely did he want any. Tuna was the one exception, but I haven’t met a real cat yet that would turn down tuna. The vet clinic suggested meat baby food was generally a good option, but as I expected he turned his nose up at that too. We did get him to eat a little tuna a couple of times, but I think it only made us feel better.

He did get to enjoy his window during his last few days. We always kept a tall kitty tree next to the living room window for our brood. Ziggy thought that was one of the best spots in the house to nap. He could see out the window, and in warmer weather when the window was open, listen to the birds in the tree in our front yard. We had to help him up to the top perch a couple of times during the last days, but I think he enjoyed the morning sunshine as much as ever.

One of my most enduring memories of him was in the morning when he would suddenly hear the kids walking up the street in front of our house headed towards the elementary school at the end of our block. Ziggy would run full-tilt into the living room and with one huge leap, he would slide across the coffee table we kept under the window for the cats to sit on and end up with his face almost touching the glass. He so enjoyed watching the kids. He never missed a morning when school was in session. I hope when school started this fall just one of the kids noticed his little gray face was missing from our window and wondered where that kitty went.

I brought down a mattress from our guest room, so my wife and I could sleep with Ziggy during his last days with us. That became our world for a bit, while we sat and watched over him. We would leave him alone for short periods of time, especially when he would fall asleep. He was not sleeping as much as a cat should, and I know it was because he felt uncomfortable. So, we would just let him be while slept.

During a calm moment, when my wife and I were sitting on the bed with him, we made one of our toughest decisions. My wife was gently stroking his head as he dozed, and we began to talk about the fact that we knew he was uncomfortable, and even though he might last the week the vet thought he would, it would be increasingly painful for him. We did not want him to suffer just for us. We decided that euthanasia was the only humane option, and we felt strongly that an in-home one would be much better for him and us. We were so lucky to find a vet here in the Denver area that would come to our home to help relieve Mr. Ziggy of his pain. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to take him back to the vet to do that. I know it would have been so much more painful for all of us.

So, I called the vet and scheduled the appointment for noon on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009.

Tomorrow, the final chapter and Ziggy’s rules to live by.


  1. Sundown and Soulmate...thank you again for sharing your remarkable Ziggy with us. Your Ziggy and Treelo sound a lot like my Freddie and Caroline (both big Maine Coon mixes, known as Boy Cat and Girl Cat on my blog). Caroline is the princess, Little Miss Touch-Me-Not. I got Freddie to be a companion for Caroline when I took a new job with a long commute; little did I know that she didn't want a companion! She barely tolerates him, and he adores her. After 6 years together they have reached a truce more or less. I hear you about fate tapping you on the back of the head and handing you an animal! In our case, fate handed us an African Grey parrot but that's another story. I've told all of my pets' stories over on my blog - you are welcome to visit if you want - http://misformisanthrope.wordpress.com/, in the "pets" category.

    Anyway - there is nothing worse than watching your beloved animal companion suffering, and to know that the only way to relieve that suffering is to say goodbye. I'll be back to read the next installment. Thank you again for this beautiful story. I see so many parallels between your kitties and my zoo; my heart is breaking for you both as I read this.

  2. I honestly don't even know what to post - this story just breaks my heart, so I can't even imagine how you must feel. It sounds like you did everything you could to make his last days as comfortable and loving as possible, which is really all you can do to help them out. Know that my heart goes out to you and I hope you can get to the point where you are able to remember the good times and not feel sad about the bad.

  3. Okay, I'm sitting here crying again...it just sounds like your little angel Ziggy was such a sweet boy and so sorry that his time on this earth was so short but as I've said before, I'm just so happy that he had such wonderful parents to love him and take care of him...you and your wife are just wonderful parents to your little furry babies, and they're all so lucky to have found such an amazing home with you.

    Hugs to all, humans and furry ones alike!
    p.s. your Hubbard looks so much like my little Gambino, just without the smooshed persian cat face ;-)

  4. Like Amy, I've been sitting here, not knowing what to write. I'm touched. And I'm sad. And I'm so glad Ziggy and Hubbard and Treelo have you. My heartfelt hugs.


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